Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Barbara Marcus, the #NY12SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview

Kid Lit Marketing Expert and #12NYSCBWI Faculty Member Barbara Marcus

Barbara Marcus is a leading business and marketing strategist in the areas of children’s content and distribution. She's currently Strategic Innovations Advisor to Penguin Books USA focusing in the area of new ventures and new publishing opportunities and Advisor to Open Road Integrated Media in the area of children's digital publishing. Barbara is on the Board of Knowledge Adventure, a children’s software and technology company and Media Source, a children’s books direct marketing company and publisher of Library Journal and School Library Journal. Prior to that, she was President, Scholastic Children’s Book Publishing and Distribution where she was responsible for children’s consumer book publishing and distribution in the United States. After acquiring J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for publication in the United States in 1998, Barbara led the publishing effort for six out of the seven Harry Potter titles.

She will be speaking Saturday morning as part of a super-star panel exploring "Children's Books, Today and Tomorrow: Four Expert Impressions."

Here's our interview:

Lee: Hi Barbara, thanks so much for making the time to chat! The first question I have to ask is: There are so many people inspired by the success of Harry Potter - and you were right in there, part of making that success happen. While there's obviously no clear magic-potion formula to write and market a book series that successful - or we'd all have run-away best-sellers - can you share what were the elements, from your perspective, that made it all come together into such a perfect storm?

Barbara: I always say that the real reason that Harry Potter became the phenomenon of Harry Potter was because of the genius of Jo Rowling's story and writing. She created a world that was so fantastic and characters that every child thought could be their friends. It was an incredible combination of fantasy and reality. We all wanted to be best friends with Harry, Hermione and Harry and go to school at Hogwarts.

So much has changed since that time but we were lucky enough to create some firsts such as no review copies before publication, distributing the books at midnight with parties, creating a hardcover with embossing and foil.....now things that often can be part of regular publishing plans.

Lee: Do you see children's books following the path of adult books with the ever-growing consumption (and market share) of e-books, or is there a different future for kid lit?

Barbara: Children's books will have the best of both worlds. I think there are many paths for children's books as digital books. Some YAs will sell the same percentage in ebook form as adult books. There will also be original YA titles with enhanced features like music and video. Picture e-books and apps will be read alouds and have interactive features and also will exist in print. I think the push to use e-books in school and libraries will be slow and steady which translates into a longer time before e-books are as dominant as they are in adult publishing. The future of children's books as e-books also depends on the pricing of tablets. As the prices decrease, the possibility of more children's books being read as e-books increases.

Lee: Do you think being innovative with how stories are told is something that only established authors and illustrators can get away with, or does the Wild West of all this new technology create opportunities for new talents to break into the industry?

Barbara: I think authors and illustrators should always focus telling the best story they can. If technology or innovation is something that the artist feels is integral to the story, then they should include it.

Lee: Do you think every author and illustrator should be aware of building themselves as a "brand?" Or, to paraphrase Mo Willems, is branding just for cattle?

Barbara: I feel so repetitive when I say that a brand also comes out of a special story and characters. One big well defined story with a world and characters can lead to a brand but you can't just build one.   Just write or illustrate the best book you can and with your agent and publisher you can explore the possibility of creating a brand

Lee: For attendees, the SCBWI winter conference is full of amazing networking, crucial information from experts, craft, business, inspiration, community, and opportunities to move our careers forward. What's exciting to you about coming to the conference?

Barbara: This is my first SCBWI so I am looking forward to the conversations I will be having with the other attendees about what is happening in the world of children's publishing

Lee: Words of wisdom for attendees?

Barbara:  Try and make sure you think about what you really are trying to accomplish before getting to the conference.  There will be lots of interesting people and sessions.  Make sure that you come away with something that really resonates with you post conference.  These are fascinating and sometimes confusing times in publishing so focusing can really help. 

Thanks Barbara!  That's great advice.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Barbara's presentation, and you can be there, too.  Registration for the Lucky 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, January 27-29, 2012 is still open.

Hope to see you there.

Illustrate and Write On,



Jeni said...

I'm going to SCBWI New York for the first time this year, and her suggestion that attendees focus on what they'd like to get out of the conference before they arrive hit home for me. Thank you for the interview!

Jeni said...

I'm going to SCBWI New York for the first time this January, so her advice to attendees--to think about what they'd like to focus on during the conference before they arrive--hit home for me. Thank you for the interview!